Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Taco Riendo

So close, and yet so good. Ah, the joys of Taco Riendo, our local go-to for excellent, authentic and amazingly cheap Mexican. A bit off the beaten Girard path at 5th & Thompson, it is well worth the minor adventure into Kensington. They offer a long list of tacos, sopes, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, and larger entree dishes for dine-in or take away, and apparently a newly added outdoor patio for the summer. We'll have to come back around in the warmer months to check that out.

Taco Riendo is BYO, but they do offer a huge assortment of those neon colored Mexican sodas in flavors from apple to orange to grapefruit. They can be sickly sweet, but go down great when trying to put out the flames from some scorching pepper.

chips, pico de gallo and guac
House made chips, fresh from the fryer. Thick, crunchy, and a little salty. Bright green guacamole and pico de gallo salsa bursting with brightness from cilantro and a little lime juice. Excellent.

tres Doraditos (Pollo, Red O Papa)
The tres doraditos - three crispy rolled taquitos filled with your choice of chicken, beef or potato. Topped with lettuce, sour cream and oaxaca cheese - these were recommended by a friend and were stellar. The crispy crunch of the fried tortillas gives way to the luscious chicken and cheese making for a loud and messy meal. You start by trying to dip one of the taquitos into the cup of salsa, chomp noisily away, make some mmmm and moaning sounds, then try to clean up all the bits that have fallen to the plate - you'll not want to let those go to waste.

salmon tacos
One of the specials for the night was salmon tacos. Two large portions of fish, grilled to a beautiful color and topped with cilantro and onion that serve to wake up the fish and round out the flavors. Really tasty. I'd never seen salmon served in taco form before - usually it's mahi-mahi or some other white fish. My only complaint is that the fillets were so large I almost didn't have room for everything else we ordered.  Almost.

beef flank taco with grilled cactus
How often do you see cactus on a menu? That pretty much means I have to order it. A fairly simple dish, tender beef flank, sliced on the bias so it falls apart in your mouth topped with grilled cactus that tasted faintly like the canned green beans my dad used to make for dinner when mom was sick. That's not a compliment or an endorsement of this dish. Not sure if you can get fresh cactus in February, but maybe that could help. Shame since the beef was so good. And to my dad's credit, he's a dramatically improved cook. He's left the beans and stewed tomatoes in the past, which is good for everyone.

Taco De Alambre 
The wifey always orders well. And this night was no exception. The tacos de alambre come with your choice of grilled steak or chicken (or both!), mixed with peppers, onions and more of that delicious oaxaca cheese. Kind of like what we think of as fajitas - but with cheese. These were fantastic. The caramelized onions and just soft peppers compliment the grilled meat perfectly. Wrapped up in those perfect corn tortillas and the now melted cheese. You'll never go back to Chili's again. 

a bottle of Saison Dupont - perfect with spicy food

Thru trial and error, I've found that the best thing to drink with spicy food is a good Belgian saison beer. The slight sweetness of the brew helps to counteract the capsaicin wreaking havoc with your taste buds and sinuses. Water just makes it worse. Milk is the best thing for it, but there's no way I'm bringing a gallon of 2% to a BYO. Nope, beer is the answer. As usual. Saison Dupont is a fantastic farmhouse ale, sold in a 750ml bottle and available at Total Wine in Delaware. Pick a few up for your next outing. You'll be the envy of every guy in there drinking chardonnay. 

Taco De Lengua Con Cilantro Y Cebolla
What's the weirdest thing on the menu? Beef tongue tacos? I'll have that. Obviously. While I admire the fact that Taco Riendo is not shying away from the random bits of animal normally discarded, I wasn't exactly thrilled with these. The beef was very bland - since it's steamed (I assume to help tenderize it) it doesn't pick up much flavor. The salsa verde, cilantro and onions helped but there's no getting over the fact that the beef was near flavorless. But for $2.50, it was worth a shot.

Taco De Pescado
Last but not least, the taco de pescado - a grilled fish taco topped with rice, some more cilantro and onions (you'll notice a theme here). The grilled mahi was super tasty, as always. And the addition of the rice helps make the taco seem more substantial. We've had nights where we just ate these. They are that good. 

Fun fact - did you know that in Spanish "pescado" means a fish that will be eaten (dead) and "pez" means a fish that is still alive. In English, we do that for animals (cow/beef, pig/pork) but not fish. Weird. 

One of the things I love most about Taco Riendo is the number of different dishes and tastes you get to try at any one time. Tacos are small and cheap, so you never feel bad about ordering two or even three different kinds. If you're dining with friends, especially adventurous ones, you'll likely get thru a good portion of the menu. If you stick to the taco menu, the most expensive thing on there is $5.50. You can have a blowout meal (with your own booze) for less than $20 a person. What's Spanish for "I love this place!"?

Food Baby Rating: Twins!


Taco Riendo
1301 North 5th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 235-2294
Open daily 9am to 9pm (10pm on weekends)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

DIY Cheese

I love cheese. Everything about it. The stinky stuff. The raw milk kind. The moldy stuff. I love cheese. I love walking around DiBruno's, talking to the mongers and sampling a great aged goat from Spain, a blue from Neal's Yard in England, a triple cream Brie from France. And now I love making cheese. The process is easier than you think, and with the help of a home kit, you can have fresh ricotta or mozzarella in less than an hour. Seriously. 

The wifey found the Urban Cheese Craft shop on Esty, and I was instantly intrigued. For $25 you get everything you need (except the milk) to craft multiple batches of your own home made fromage in a convenient Happy Meal shaped box. 

One gallon of whole milk makes one batch of cheese - 1-1/2 lbs - you decide if it's going to be mozzarella or ricotta. We chose ricotta for our first batch, since it's quicker and easier.

Step 1.) Heat the milk, salt and citric acid up to 185* in a big stock pot, stirring often to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Once it reaches temperature, the curds and whey should start to separate. Turn off the heat and let it set for 10 mins. 

Step 2.) After waiting the 10 mins, strain out through a cheesecloth lined colander. You have to work the colander around a bit to get all the liquid out. 

Step 3.) Let the soon-to-be cheese rest and drain in the colander for 30 mins. 

Step 4.) With the ricotta fully drained and cooled, it's ready to be scooped out of the colander. This was a little tricky, as it really likes to stick to the cheesecloth. Patience is a virtue with cheese. Trust me though, it'll be worth it. 

Step 5.) Eat! We spread the ricotta on sliced rounds of warm ciabatta. Having cheese this fresh is really fantastic. Rich and creamy, salted to your taste. This is soooo much better than anything you can buy at the grocery store. Pick up a tub at Claudio's and it'll set you back $10 and still won't be as fresh. DIY cheese is absolutely worth the time if you've got a lazy Sunday coming up soon. 

The gallon of milk yielded enough ricotta for our snack above, plus a mean lasagna I made based on a recipe out of Marc Vetri's cookbook. The lasagna had a layer of the DIY ricotta mixed with spinach, underneath a layer of sauted eggplant, pureed with breadcrumbs and an egg. All this between sheets of home made pasta made the Vetri way. By far the best lasagna I've ever made. I'll post the full recipe later this week. 

Check out the Urban Cheese shop on Etsy.  You can buy kits for queso blanco and paneer, goat cheese and other supplies like extra muslin, rennet tablets, and citric acid. Let me know how your own stuff comes out! Yeah Cheese!! 


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great Burger Challenge - Round 5: PYT

The Great Burger Challenge soldiers on. I swear, we'll finish this before summer. Well, maybe before the end of summer. It'll definitely be this year. Promise. This installment features local hotspot PYT. Although I wrote this joint up a while back, it was time to bring in the professionals for a proper tasting, calculating and ranking of the burgers here. 

Service is always predictable, which generally involves waiting for whatever random hipster with gauged ears that has been assigned our section to bring out our drinks while they apologize for being new. Like the Dalai Lama says, "If you have no expectations, you'll never be disappointed." I have next to zero expectations for the servers here. The food however is a completely different story. A testament to how PYT can be successful with such an abysmal weight staff. I have never been disappointed with anything I've been served here. Not sure what his Holiness would make of a Philly Pretzel burger with a 1/2 lb. of cheesesteak meat on it, what with the vegetarianism and all, but I'm pretty sure he could come up with some new inspiration quotes for that piece of nirvana on a roll. 

pretzel nuggets with cheese dipping sauce
Appetizers. Ambitious, I know. With the amount of beef and carbs about to be laid before us, we're just getting greedy. Had to give the pretzel nuggets a try though. Served with a queso dipping sauce and a scoop of salsa floating on top, they were filling but not memorable. The pretzels themselves were not cooked all the way through, and still doughy in the center. The dipping sauce was about the equivalent of the nacho cheese you get at the Riverview movie theatre. One of the few dishes at PYT that has not impressed me. You can skip these. 

the Korean short rib burger
Contestant #1's Korean short rib burger, topped with some kimchi and an asian spicy mayo. The ground short rib is marinated in Korean bbq sauce, then formed into a patty and fried into deliciousness. I stand by my belief that bacon, goat cheese, and kimchi make everything better. This is no exception. 

the single - with bacon, fried onions and cheese. mind the onion rings. 
Contestant #2 went with the classic PYT single. More than enough for a normal human being, you're also entitled to a side of their crispy fries and healthy green pickle, so you can get your vegetables. She brought the A game with the addition of bacon and caramelized onions. Even cooked well-done (as requested - don't get me started on that burger faux pas) the flavor of the beef shines through. The soft potato roll, grilled ever so slightly, is the blank canvas for the artist in the kitchen. 

peek-a-boo - i see onion rings...
Let's not forget to mention the onion rings. Worthy of a write up all their own, they are the best in the city. Wishing Well puts up a serious contender, but I'm reminded again just how good these are. Huge rings of tender onion, cooked to a sweet, nearly caramelized consistency inside an oh-so-crunchy crust based on a Kenzinger beer batter. They are light and crispy, moist and delicious. Never will the onion betray it's crust and leave you with an empty batter ring. You can rely on these to be there for you, in good times and in bad, thru Swift Half and Gunners Run, Apollonaire and King's Oak.

the double, with all the fixins. tater tots, with chili & cheese.
Contestant# 4 - I'll let you guess who that was - was feeling saucy this night. Deciding that I needed to get the full weight and magnitude of the PYT experience, along with a proper food baby to report, I ordered the double with all the accouterments - lettuce, tomato, cheddar cheese, and the house made secret sauce. Oh, and a side of tater tots smothered Waffle House style with cheese and chili. And a pickle. There are families in rural China that don't consume this many calories in a day. God bless America.  

the double, fully assembled and ready for ingestion. 
Get your papaya pills ready for the post game after this one. You're going to need help with all the digestion that is about to take place. It's a challenge just getting a bite out of this thing. Luckily the soft potato roll lets you squish it down to make it a reasonable affair. On the downside, after about 3 bites, the bottom roll is soaked thru with burger juices and soggy in the middle. I eat fast enough that it's not an issue for me, but the slower members of the party made a note of it on their score sheets. I love this burger. It's the closest thing I've had to an In-N-Out burger anywhere outside of California - and that alone is a worthy accolade. The beef is terrific - sweet and juicy, full of flavor. Toppings and cheese are nothing fancy, but there's no need for shenanigans when the base is done this well.

It's a blessing and a curse to live within walking distance of burgers this good. Knowing that we can always get consistently excellent food and cheap High Lifes on draft can be tempting. And of course there are the adult milk shakes with shots of brandy, bourbon and/or kahula for something special. There's a reason PYT has quietly become the anchor that Bart Blatstein has been trying (unsuccessfully) to create for the Piazza on his own. Weekends and warm summer nights mean a wait for a table here - that's always a good sign for a restaurant.  Great food, cheap beers, and a very cool scene lend PYT an air of superiority over it's neighbors. In spite of the apathetic servers, it's completely justified.


Food Baby Rating - Triplets

1050 North Hancock Street 
The Piazza at Schmidts
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 964-9009

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Food Baby on Twitter!!

Follow the Food Baby blog - now on Twitter!

First a blog, then Facebook. And now this. I've finally made the jump to Twitter! Still figuring out how to use all this fancy new technology, but I'll be tweeting new posts and quick updates on a great dish or sweet deal somewhere around the city.

You can click the link on the right under Twitter Updates to link to my page or just search for @FoodBabyPhilly


Friday, February 3, 2012


I have not been to Pod since I was in college - was that really 10 years ago? Ugh. Every time we think about going, we end up at Hikari in Northern Liberties, Zento in Old City, or Fat Salmon on Washington Square. The sushi at all three is great, and the first two are BYO. So why bother trekking all the way to University City for it? Because Pod has a sushi conveyor belt. Because they serve a great martini. And because you can sit in a color changing Pod while everyone else wishes they were as cool. It's the perfect place for date night - whether it's a first or the 100th.

martini's - up, very dirty. 
We were surprised to see how many kids were dining on sushi. I suppose it's a reflection on the local neighborhood and the gentrification that follows the Penn Grade School on Spruce. Parents in their late 30's and early 40's, couple of kids in tow, lots of J.Crew outfits for the family. It's also a sign of the times - we never went for sushi when I was younger. Partly because it was so expensive, but growing up in South Jersey it wasn't exactly readily available. Kids grow up eating California & Philly rolls now. They know the proper etiquette for how to mix the wasabi with the soy sauce. And they can tell you the difference between sashimi & nigiri. Here's hoping that someday my kids end up with an affinity for spicy tuna and the dexterity to use chopsticks at age 7.

edamame & mushroom sweet pea dumplings
Edamame. Steamed soybean pods sprinkled with salt. Standard and required appetizer for all sushi meals. It also keeps surprisingly well in the freezer. And if you're not intimidated by the Asian grocery stores and the weird smells that emanate from them, you can get a bag of your own for just a few dollars. Along with the edamame (which was great, by the way), we got an order of the mushroom & sweet pea dumplings. Served with some sesame soy sauce, they were absolutely delicious. Lightly sauteed mushrooms with just barely steamed, perfectly fresh peas brought a great sweetness alongside the savory mushroom and wonton rapper. So light but so substantial. I could eat a dozen of these. Really really tasty.

spicy tuna crispy rice
All by it's lonesome at the top of the sushi menu is the Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice. There's a reason it gets top billing. It was one of the best things we had all night. I've never tasted anything like it before. A nearly perfectly rectangular block of rice, fried just to a crisp, topped with a beautiful piece of tuna and a spicy serrano chili sauce. It's the luscious fish and the crispy rice playing this wonderful game of competing textures, with just enough heat from the serranos & jalapeno. Stellar.

shiro-aoi maki / spicy crunchy yellowtail maki
A couple of very good maki rolls for dinner. A spicy crunchy yellowtail maki with mango & jalapeno was delicious. The sweet and spice balanced perfectly plus a little crunch for a contrast of texture with the fish. Also great was the Shiro-aoi - a spicy white tuna maki with avocado, topped with yellowtail and jalapeƱo. It's a big piece of sushi, which made eating it in one bite a bit of a challenge, but totally worth the jaw un-hinging routine. The whole slice of jalapeno on top will wake you up if you've gotten sleepy from the martinis and dumplings. Superb pieces of tuna and some luscious avocado make for a great roll.

fufffernutter spring rolls & vanilla bean mousse

Dessert was a hit and a miss. Vanilla bean mousse, done up like a piece of cheese cake, on a graham cracker crust with ginger caramelized bananas reads a lot better than it tastes. Honestly, I was expecting much more than the bland and boring creation that came out. 

More than making up for it though were the Fluffernutter Spring Rolls.  Yes, you read that right. Remember fluffer-nutter sandwiches? The clear sign that your mom really did love you when you were 9? Pod has done their own spin on it with a fluff spring roll, served with a terrine of chocolate peanut butter sauce for dipping. Incredible. One of the best desserts I've had. Ever. 

So happy that we finally made it back around to Pod. It's everything that Starr does well. Elaborate interior. Pricey but good drinks. Fun atmosphere. Very good food. There's a reason this guy has two dozen restaurants. Surprise you're better half with some sushi and Jetson's furniture for your next date night. Maybe even snag a seat at the conveyor belt if you want a show during dinner. And don't forget the Fluff. 


Food Baby Rating - Twins!

3636 Sansom Street  
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3212
(215) 387-1803